On I-LAND, your older brother said that he’s proud of you now, thinking back to how you used to be this average cute but a little immature kid who liked playing games with friends and didn’t like to study.
HEESEUNG: That time he was talking about, that was when I was really immature. I’m not exaggerating when I say that everything’s changed. This might be a bit off-topic, but I have this one good old friend who I would hang out with and goof around with all the time. It was all really childish, but I’m way more mature now. (laughs) But I do think I should keep growing up more than I am now.
I saw that, when you were doing the group photoshoot, the staff asked you to move to NI-KI’s side, and you asked him first if that was okay before moving.
HEESEUNG: Yes, I did say that. It happened so quickly, I’m surprised you caught it. (laughs)
You didn’t hesitate to help other contestants with their dancing on I-LAND even though you were competing against one another. SUNOO said you’re an “angel.” (laughs)
HEESEUNG: I could try and take all the credit for that, but that’s not really how it was. (laughs) I think that was possible because I-LAND had more challenges emphasizing teamwork than other survival shows. But that aside, I still wanted to help them. When I first became a Big Hit trainee, I practiced really hard for six months and became one of the better performers among the new recruits. I guess it’s probably because I had a lot of opportunities to be the leader from that time on.
HEESEUNG: I’m still not that good at dancing, but I was absolutely hopeless at the beginning. (laughs) I was really, really bad. It was so bad that my friends would make fun of me for not being able to do even basic moves. They’d say, “Seriously, how did you ever get casted?” But Big Hit’s training regimen is really good. (laughs and stretches arms out diagonally) This is called “arm stretching.” It’s a basic move. This is all I did for a year. And then more than a year of following the rhythm. I focused on basic, repetitive moves like that, then I took baby steps with a dance foundations class, and then with endless practice I finally got a lot better.
You can give hope to hopeless dancers. (laughs) I know that you were always very interested in singing.
HEESEUNG: I dreamed of becoming a singer since I was six, but I totally lacked confidence. Singers need to be able to sing in front of people without feeling nervous, but the most I could do until high school was sing with two or three really close friends at a karaoke. And then my dad suggested I take the entrance exam for an art high school, but I was too nervous during the test to sing anything. I was about to head home thinking I’d better study or choose a different career path when suddenly a casting agent spotted me. I was really lucky.
It’s hard to imagine that when I see you on stage now.
HEESEUNG: I was heavily influenced by YEONJUN from TOMORROW X TOGETHER when I came to Big Hit. Up until then, I had a sense of pride. I thought, well, I’m pretty good at singing, right? But after I saw YEONJUN, I realized I was totally fooling myself. (laughs) I felt like YEONJUN is the kid who gets perfect in every subject and I’m the one who gets, about 80 in one class and goes around bragging about it. So I thought there’s no room for feeling “not confident or some other nonsense like that” (laughs) I need to really up my game if I want to be a singer. From then on, I tried to really show off everything I’ve got on stage, which is different from how I used to be.
In the “October 2020 by ENHYPEN” video, you set a goal to practice vocals for one and a half to two hours every day. Even with your busy schedule, you’ve been close to 70~80% successful with that goal.
HEESEUNG: (laughs) It’s easy to achieve your goals when it’s something you like to do. I usually put my all into things I like, but I don’t have much motivation to do things I’m not into. I think that’s a strength and also a weakness. To use studying as an example: I lost interest in studying when I was in middle school, so I didn’t put much effort into most subjects, but I liked English because I liked to listen to pop songs. There was a foreign language high school near me that accepted students only based on their English grades and mine were good enough to get in.
All your practice really shows on your debut album, BORDER: DAY ONE. I was impressed by how you expressed each song differently.
HEESEUNG: The lead single, “Given-Taken,” is about facing a new world, and ENHYPEN just debuted as a team, so I wanted to convey a passionate start of a race. You could say it’s mellow since it opens with a harp, but I used all my energy to emphasize the tone. In “Let Me In (20 CUBE),” there’s the lyrics: “Can you open your window / Been looking everywhere for my Nemo.” It would sound kind of weird if I sang, “Open up!” forcefully like that.(laughs) So I recorded my vocals in a way that best conveys the meaning and doesn’t break the mood.
It looks like you have specific ideas about the performances and your music. On I-LAND you recorded the “-note” video diary, and you reflected on various aspects of your performance. It was very impressive the way you could go back and analyze it like that.
HEESEUNG: If you debut, you become a professional. I don’t look like a pro in my performances yet, but I think you become more professional by making deliberate efforts. I think I need to be able to express myself inside and out, so I’m trying to do all different kinds of training.
HEESEUNG: When I was in sixth grade, I took a music composition class using a sequencer program my dad recommended, called Cakewalk. I started to write songs again after I became a trainee. There’s a song I worked on until I got into I-LAND, and also some songs I wrote and recorded the lyrics over some existing beats. But we’ve been so busy preparing for the debut. I really regret that I haven’t been able to show off my work. Anyway, I’m going to keep trying to write songs for ENGENE whenever I get time. I just hope they’ll be patient with me.
You said “Merry and the Witch’s Flower” by Yerin Baek is your favorite song. What kind of songs do you usually listen to?
HEESEUNG: As far as genre goes, I’m really into alternative R&B. I also like songs that are dreamy and chill. I listened to a lot of songs by Yerin Baek, Anderson Paak and Eric Bellinger lately. I usually listen to the newest releases to see what people like these days, but I also listen to old hits by 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G.
In BE:LIFT LAB’s “Training Camp,” you said your personal motivation is the high goals you set for yourself.
HEESEUNG: If I were to say that I want to be at 100, I’m currently at a 30 or 40. I’m absolutely serious. I think I need to try a lot harder if I’m going to reach my full potential. I want to be more than just a set of skills, or an amazing person; I want to make sure I don’t lose myself. The more time you spend on your work, the less time there is to invest in yourself. And if your work takes over your identity, I think you might even find it easy to lose your own sense of self. I want to be the kind of person who can grow while staying devoted to my work.
It reminds me of your performance of “Chamber 5.” Even though I-LAND is a survival program and you could have chosen a song that would have been more advantageous to you, you took on a new challenge solely for self-improvement.
HEESEUNG: (laughs) I was in way over my head. I seriously never tried even a single playful song like “Chamber 5” before in my life. But, obviously, you can’t go back to the past. Anyway, that was my choice. I was preparing for a job where you have to be ready to handle all different kinds of concepts. I took that as a fact and just practiced. And also, I had the magnificent teacher, Mr. SUNOO, right there with me. (laughs) So it was good in the end.
Maybe it’s thanks to that experience that the way you turn around and wink in the “Let Me In (20 CUBE)” performance suits you so well.
HEESEUNG: (laughs) That kind of stuff just comes to me naturally now—basically showing people how charming I am. Was it a bit awkward? (laughs) Songs like “10 Months” are in-your-face cutesy. It was hard at first, but after thinking about my own style the answer came to me. I look mature compared to the other members, so I figured that was the solution to the problem of how to express my charm. Now I am Lee HEESEUNG, a man of endless allure. (laughs)
HEESEUNG: I’m good at listening to other people’s problems. That sounded like bragging. (laughs) If I see someone struggling with something I can fix or help them with, it’s hard for me to just stand by and watch. I don’t go around thinking I always need to help with everything, but I unconsciously act that way.
You’re the oldest member of the group. I can tell the other members trust you, and rely on you. As their oldest teammate, how do you want to be there for them?
HEESEUNG: I hope they don’t think of me as being more important than them just because I’m the oldest. In middle school, high school, clubs, and places like that, I realized that opening up to someone your senior isn’t always easy. So when we became a team, I thought I should be a cute, approachable guy (laughs) and create an atmosphere where they can speak openly with me. Everybody feels comfortable talking to that kind of person.
It seems like you already are. You all looked really close when the others were touching your head without hesitation on V LIVE and saying it looks like the full moon. (laughs)
HEESEUNG: (laughs) Yes, I’m … not thrilled that happened. (laughs) Everyone in the group has their own strong, unique personality, but still, we all try to trust and respect one another, and we set clear boundaries. And as we spend more time together, we share more personal stories, which helps us grow closer.
In “-note,” you thank the people around you and judge your own practice progress objectively while finding the positive aspects. I was impressed.
HEESEUNG: Even though they didn’t show it on the show much, I felt tremendous pressure being in a leadership position. There was so much to deal with. A lot of that was hard, of course, but I believe that people become the things they say they are, so I chose to be thankful and stay positive. If I say it like I believe it, my thinking will change and then I can overcome any difficulty. For artists, fans are important, skills are important, and talent is important, if you want to draw people in. Everything is important, really. I think it’s most important to have a healthy mind if you want to really nail all those things.
What does music mean to you?
HEESEUNG: That’s the hardest question. (laughs) I don’t want to define music in one word. I don’t think there should be just one correct answer to what music is. Because there’s no answer, all kinds of different music gets made, and many different people can be on stage. As soon as there is an answer, music will lose its charm.
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